THURSDAY, May 28, 2020 (HealthDay News) — An injectable electrode could prove a better way to ease chronic nerve pain than opioid painkillers or bulky and expensive implants, animal research suggests.
It’s called an “injectrode.” It appears easier and cheaper than spinal implants for debilitating back pain, and safer than long-term use of opioids like OxyContin (oxycodone), a recent paper suggests.
A liquid silicone gel filled with small metal particles is injected around the nerve that’s causing the pain, said researcher Kip Ludwig, a professor of biomedical engineering and neurological surgery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“It cures (hardens), and it becomes a conductible electrode” that surrounds the nerve, Ludwig said.
Doctors then inject an outer sheath of insulation around the newly formed electrode, and use the same gel to craft a wire running from the injectrode to the surface of the skin.
“You now have a direct connection to stimulate a deep nerve from the surface of the skin, without affecting any nerves on the surface of the skin,” Ludwig said. “We’re trying to get this to the point where it’s like getting a tattoo, in terms of invasiveness.”
The use of electrical pulses to alter nerve activity, a technique called neuromodulation, has been shown to effectively treat chronic nerve pain, Ludwig said.
“When you feel pain, those nerves are sending an electrical signal that goes to your brain and tells you that you’re feeling pain,” Ludwig said. “This interrupts that signal.”
However, neuromodulation hasn’t been a viable means of treating nerve pain because it requires invasive and expensive surgery to place what amounts to a tiny, electrically charged computer inside a person, Ludwig said.
Because the neuromodulation procedure is so costly, patients often have to show that opioid drugs and other therapies aren’t effective in treating their pain before insurance will cover the cost of an implant, Ludwig said. By then, the person may be addicted.
“If we can make this procedure less invasive, then you can start doing it not just for patients who have failed all drug therapies first. You can start doing it before the drugs or at least with the drugs,” Ludwig said.